It’s February and many of my people are ill. A few are seriously ill. One lady was recently in a horrific car crash. Another fellow had to have emergency heart surgery. A young lad was badly injured playing sports. Another lady’s uncle was diagnosed with cancer.
It’s been a tough week – it’s been a long winter and whenever we enter into a season like this I know that I will be asked some version of this question: “If we prayed more would fewer of our people get sick?”
As a pastor I try to be very careful how I answer that. Anytime someone asks you if we should pray more the answer should be a resounding YES.
You should pray more!
I should pray more!
We should pray more!
It’s a very dangerous thing to try and connect particular suffering to particular sins. Jesus warned his disciples against doing it. In John 9 the disciples saw a man who had been born blind and they couldn’t help but try and connect the dots. They asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 ESV).
The disciples assumed that every sickness had a specific cause. If a person was born blind then obviously, someone had sinned. The only thing to be figured out was who.
That is a very dangerous game.
Jesus would have none of it. He said, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 ESV).
Apparently, the illness of this man had nothing to do with anyone’s particular sins. Rather it had to do with purposes related to the glory of God in Christ.
Jesus had a similar exchange in Luke 13. There we are told:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1–5 ESV)
Once again people were trying to connect the dots.
Were the Galileans particular sinful? Were they prayerless? Was that why they suffered the tragedy and hardships that they did? Or what about those people on whom the tower fell? Were they perhaps not tithers? Was one of them an adulterer?
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5 ESV).
Again and again in Scripture we are warned against trying to connect particular suffering to particular sin.
That kind of analysis is way above our pay-grade.
We live in a fallen world. In a fallen world there is lots of suffering. Only in North America where suffering is infrequent and prosperity near ubiquitous would a person think that a bunch of people getting ill at the same time represented some sort of disruption in the natural order.
Everywhere else in the universe they refer to that experience as ‘Thursday’ as in ‘par for the course’ as in ‘what else did you expect’?
Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33 ESV).
To state the obvious, this is the world and it is filled with tribulation. As believers we trust that our various trials and afflictions represent opportunities for God to be glorified. Sometimes he will be glorified in our faithful perseverance. Sometimes he will be glorified in our miraculous healing and restoration. Sometimes we will know what he is doing. And sometimes we will not.
Job never did learn why he suffered the things that he did. God simply showed up and reminded him of how little he knew and how small he was. Job immediately realized that he had said too much.
“I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3 ESV).
Sometimes we ask bad questions instead of doing good things.
Praying is a good thing.
Repenting is a good thing.
Searching your heart is a good thing.
Asking questions about things we are told not to inquire into is a dangerous and distracting game.
So when your people get sick, pray more, repent thoroughly, be helpful, love one another and seek the glory of God above all things.
Pastor Paul Carter